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From the Middle Ages My Job Interview With Twenty-something HR

February 23, 2001
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Old age doesn't creep up on you; itsmacks you right upside the head, and usually, it's someone younger deliveringthe blow. 

    I don't think allthat much about aging; all my parts function pretty much like they always have.Okay, so the gray hair's a dead giveaway, but that's just a personal choice notto cover it up. I have to suspect that everyone over the age of 25 wasn't reallyborn with the exact same shade of red hair, even though I see it on everyone whoisn't gray. 

    Don't even get mestarted on body piercings. 

    So in my own mind,I'm still young at 47. Pretty hip, I think, until I get to a job interview,something I'm forced to do every now and then while in-between writing gigs.Usually, it's through a temp agency; nothing relating to rocket science - justsome simple accounting work to fill in my monetary gaps. 

I'm handed the perennial clipboard chained to a cheap ball point pen - just in case I want to make my own first impression by pilfering.

    There is no smallmeasure of criticism among family and friends for my having decided to give up asuccessful accounting and consulting business while in my 40s to become afreelance pauper ... er ... writer, but that's what I did. No benefits, sickdays or retirement plan. And they thought I was a smart person. 

    The insidious littlereminder that I'm older than most everyone else outside of a Wal-Mart greeterstarts the second I walk into the lobby where I'm going to interview. 

    The receptionist'sjaw works furiously on some gum as she shoves a sign-in book across the counter.Next to it, sits the wood-grained designation, "First ImpressionEngineer." I slide back my résumé, biting my tongue into tiny pieces. 

    But, nooo. Just a résuméwould be too easy. I'm handed the perennial clipboard chained to a cheap ballpoint pen just in case I want to make my own first impression by pilfering. Onit is an application form. 

    It's hard to resistthe urge to explain that the exact same information is on my resume. After all,you don't have to be Pavlov's dog to know what they want to know. Instead, Idutifully fill the thing out. I resolve to stop wondering why there is alwayssome inexplicable need for redundancy at these events. Negativity and silentsmart-assed remarks swell in my throat; I'm choking on them. 

    There's enough timebefore actually talking to anyone, to witness a couple of sweaty-palmedhandshakes with my competition on their way out. The forty-somethings look soshaken that I'm compelled to check for evidence of thumb screws, but see none. 

    They direct me tothe last office down the hall. On my way, I pass by many cubicles with dozens ofemployees - none of which look much past pubescence. They've just had theirfirst dinosaur sighting, but they divert their eyes - it's not nice to stare. 

    I'm finally seatedat a round table in a starkly-lit room. Either some skinny little thing hasevidently gotten ahold of the key to the thermostat, or I forgot to take myestrogen, because I'm roasting. A smartly-suited 25 year-old redhead in heelswalks in to greet me. After offering me her clammy hand, she invites me to relaxwhile she looks over the application. She repeatedly looks at me over the papersas I fan myself. 

    "Are youokay?" she asks. "You look a little flushed." I explain that theroom's a bit stuffy, and she looks at me like I'm crazy, shivers, and starts theinterview. 

    "Well, Ms.Cohen, you're certainly qualified for the position. But after all this timeworking for yourself, do you think you could handle the 9-to-5 routine for thelength of the assignment?" she asks. 

    Nine to five? Withbreaks and a lunch hour? Is she kidding? 

    She's not. She'sjust concerned that it might be too much for me, she says. Again, she expressesconcern about how I'm feeling. She looks ready to prepare for a medicalemergency, but at this point, I'd rather chew bullets than tell her I'm having ahot flash. 

    "Sounds justfine. I'm sure there won't be any problem," I say, as I feel drops of sweatabout to betray me and run down into my mascara. 

    When she asks what Iwant to be doing in five years, I hesitate to answer. Twenty years ago, I wouldhave said something about hoping I'd have learned enough by then to be in a joblike hers. Something just this side of boot-licking. Instead, I'm thinking, infive years I hope to be sitting on a sofa somewhere, tapping away on a laptoppurchased with a hefty book advance, ... not interviewing for some hackthree-month accounts payable job. 

    Instead, I give hera strained smile and some garbage about wanting to be productive. Let her thinkI'm planning ahead for that store greeter job. 

    The personality testis next. While she tries to figure out if I'm a relater, persuader, conductor orimplementer, my brain is abuzz with sarcasm, and my face isn't hiding a thing.My dad always says when you're in a difficult situation like this, to picturethe other person without their clothes, just to lighten things up. I take it onestep further, and ad a generous portion of wrinkles and sags. My grin comeseasier now. 

    When she comes tothe one about how I deal with people I don't like, self-sabotage takes over. Theirony compels me to thoughts I cannot control; I will not be held responsible. 

    I'll live on thestreet and eat gruel. Let their accounts payable go out to 120 days! I realizeI've glazed over the last thing she said. She's clearing her throat to get myattention, but it's too late. I astro-projected out to my car fifteen minutesago. 

    "Excuse me, Ms.Cohen," her voice escalates. "I was only asking what factor you feelmay hinder your success." 

    As my body finallyjoins my brain out in the parking lot, I reply. 

    "The interviewprocess," I send to her telepathically. "See you at Wal-Mart in 20years!"

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